02/13/2012 01:53 pm ET Updated Apr 14, 2012

Intellectual Diplomacy: Deflating a Buzz Word

In recent years, we've had all kinds of new "diplomacies," ranging from "panda diplomacy" to "helium diplomacy."

And now, lo and behold, the Director of the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, Professor/Doctor Philip Seib (who, to the best of my knowledge, has never actually practiced that paradoxical and hard-to-define human enterprise, "public diplomacy," on behalf of the USG or any other government), has come up with a new (by no means viral, but mentioned) term: "intellectual diplomacy."

Well, I do not intend to be ill-mannered, but how can one not be but somewhat concerned by the quite anti-intellectual declaration in the above-cited Seib article, which states: "The United States must become more adept at diplomacy grounded in strategic intellectual competitiveness."


"Strategic intellectual competitiveness?" What does that jaw-breaker have to do with the pleasures of the mind -- or, indeed, with our new supposedly collaborative, interconnected new world of the 21st century?

I suggest Professor Seib read -- among innumerable sources stressing human frailty rather than power-based success-directed centrally-based "planning" -- that humanist 16th-century blogger, Montaigne, who had a sense of frivolity, absurdity, and independent individuality (all grounded in an extensive reading of the classics) rather than his (Prof. Seib) feebly attempting to reproduce, at USC (it's in laid-back Los [Lost?] Angeles), yet another oh-so-solemn, "foreign-policy," "think"-tank report from inside-the-beltway Washington, D.C. that values strategic power more than speculating thought.

Evidently homo ludens is not part of Professor Seib's mythology. Just take a look at his "I'm-so-macho" "A Strategy for Cultural Diplomacy." Such a  piece, in my modest opinion, belongs in the KGB archives, given, as it suggests, that culture should propagandize power.

Could the good professor be -- although, perhaps, that is not his intention -- talking about a centralized USG uber-organized realpolitik crude propaganda establishment exploiting the intellect for narrow "national security" interests?

I should note that far wiser persons than I recognize the importance of the intellect in formulating/implementing US foreign policy. Indeed, a mindless approach to America's role in the world leads to disaster. But the intellect should be used in far more subtle ways that Professor Seib suggests.

P.S. Readers interested in this posting might wish to read that classic, La Trahison des Clercs.